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andrew's avatar

Is written language degrading across all languages?

Asked by andrew (16353points) April 26th, 2009

We’ve all heard/experienced the old lament about the shift from formal rules of spelling and grammar to abbreviations, shorthand, and conflation of meaning, especially with to the recent expedience of the decline due to texting and IM.

Has this been happening, say, in French as well?

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24 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I have been wondering the same thing.

A couple of years ago I asked a temporary resident who is from Germany if instant messaging in German uses the weird amalgam of shorthand and phonetic abbreviations that we English-speakers use in text messaging. I was expecting her to say something like “Oh, yes, for example we use ‘N8’ to stand for Nacht” (in German, Nacht = “night,” and acht is the word for the number 8). But she was totally bewildered by my question, which I rephrased twice. I think she really did not know of any such thing in German, even though she said she used IM all the time wiith her friends back home. But maybe a younger German speaker would.

asmonet's avatar

I know it happens in China cause I was totally reading the Wiki on texting last night.
“In Mandarin Chinese, numbers that sound similar to words are used in place of those words. For example, the numbers 520 in Chinese (“wu er ling”) sound like the words for “I love you” (“wo ai ni”). The sequence 748 (“qi si ba”) sounds like the curse for “drop dead”.”

From that article as well
Highly publicized reports, beginning in 2002, of the use of text language in school assignments caused some to become concerned that the quality of written communication is on the decline. While some reports claim that teachers and professors are beginning to have a hard time controlling the problem, the notion that text language is widespread or harmful is refuted by research from linguistic experts.

And a short BBC Article for good measure.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

The old lament is actually a false fact. People have been decrying the degradation of their language for hundreds of years. If you read an introductory linguistics textbook, such as Finegan’s Language: It’s Structure and Use or Lippi-Green’s English with an Accent, you’ll find out that it’s not actually happening in English or any other languages. Languages change over time, it’s just what happens. Was the language that Shakespeare wrote in, or that of Chaucer less “degraded” than the one we speak now? Was Proto-Indo-European “better” than Latin or French or English?

Dansedescygnes's avatar

I’m just curious. Is there really any evidence that people are using texting language in formal reports and novels and what not? Isn’t texting and IMing language for just that? Texting and IMing?

I never got how people just because something is used in a conversation between two friends on a phone that means that it’s going to change the way the entire language works.

adreamofautumn's avatar

It is changing the way an entire language works…there are reports of students using “text speak” in papers, etc. I know teenagers who spelling is complete shit, not because they never learned to spell, but because half the words they use have been “dumbed down” into 3 or 4 letters. To top that off, it sounds particularly bad when it’s happening in verbal language. I really don’t understand how anyone finds it acceptable to actually say “lol” out loud.

TaoSan's avatar

Can only speak for German. They had a “spelling reform” 3 years ago and it was an atrocity. So, definitely, count German in as one of those languages going down the drain.

adreamofautumn's avatar

@TaoSan agreed the spelling reform is BS.

TaoSan's avatar

ooooh! A fellow Sprecher der Deutschen Sprache?

Lupin's avatar

Japanese has many different levels of formality. If you want to be taken seriously, you speak properly, spell correctly, and use correct kanji. If you are talking informally with friends you can use the slang popular with that group. The slang is definitely spiraling downward. That is a dangerous option for an over 30 to take. Sometime in the future you might need to do business with the group and will need to be professional. Slip up once and your credibility is gone. Kind of like sending out those boob shot you took in Ft Laudrdale and finding them later on the company website as a screen saver. It’s always best to take the high road.

adreamofautumn's avatar

@TaoSan ja. I can get by, but it’s not completely fluent.

morphail's avatar

David Crystal demolishes the myths of texting:

- Text messages aren’t full of abbreviations – typically less than ten percent of the words use them.
– These abbreviations aren’t a new language – they’ve been around for decades.
– They aren’t just used by kids – adults of all ages and institutions are the leading texters these days.
– Pupils don’t routinely put them into their school-work or examinations.
– It isn’t a cause of bad spelling: you have to know how to spell before you can text.
– Texting actually improves your literacy, as it gives you more practice in reading and writing.

Jeruba's avatar

Are we sure that what’s going on in Scotland is representative of the U.S.?

morphail's avatar

@Jeruba no, but I haven’t seen any evidence that texting in the US or indeed anywhere is harmful. Roman inscriptions are full of abbreviations.

andrew's avatar

@morphail Perhaps the shorthand isn’t permeating into essays, but it does pervade more and more written communication—like emails or Fluther.

My question is less to do with “is it in fact a bad thing”, but are other languages that are closely maintained, like French, also experiencing the same shift?

Jeruba's avatar

I thought morphail’s answer was saying that there is really no shift.

Related query: do mobile phones afford texting in any writing system other than the Roman alphabet? How about Cyrillic, Hiragana and Katakana, Hebrew? If there’s a shift occurring in those language groups, it would be a different one, would it not?

andrew's avatar

@Jeruba I think it skirts the issue. I was too careless in my description. I think everyone can agree that txtspeak does permeate many forms of communication, and that txtspeak is inherently less formal. I’m not arguing whether it’s “good” or “bad” (though I’d be interested in seeing data about changes in punctuation—or a lack thereof), but merely that its a deterioration of formality (which some would argue as a new dialect replacing an old one)—and I’m wondering whether that’s a global phenomenon or merely an English one.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, I understood. I don’t know the answer. I was riding on the coattails of your question with my own about whether the phenomenon is different for texters who must use the Roman alphabet even if that is not their own language’s writing system (not knowing if they do or not).

Is it possible for a dialect to exist only in written form?

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@andrew, ah, I understand the question better now, I would hypothesize that in the cultures that are seeing increase levels of texting and internet use, that it is influencing, and will continue to influence, their written and verbal language. I wouldn’t call it “degrading” though.

andrew's avatar

@La_chica_gomela Even French, which, as a language/culture is vehemently occupied with preserving formality and tradition?

_bob's avatar

En español pasa, pero nada preocupante.

Vincentt's avatar

I wouldn’t call it degrading of written language, but a lot of stuff has been abbreviated in Dutch text messages as well and IMs and, subsequently, sometimes in emails as well. People stop doing it as they get older though.

andrew's avatar

@Vincentt Can you give some examples?

Vincentt's avatar

@andrew – sure. People often use “idd” instead of writing out “inderdaad” which means “indeed”. Or “wss” for “waarschijnlijk” (I don’t know why they abbreviated that in this way) which means “probably”, stuff like that. And of course several English things like “thx”. There are plenty more examples, but I never really received or sent messages that used much more than the aforementioned abbreviations. I do know that it happens, though (I even heard someone mention how he didn’t understand his mother’s text messages since she abbreviated so much :P).

Oh, and it’s often too much work to end a text message with a period, of course.

morphail's avatar

@Jeruba no, I’m not saying there is no shift. I’m saying that what’s happening isn’t unusual or a cause for concern, and that it’s too early to say what the impact of texting will be on English.

To answer the original question: yes, other languages use abbreviations in text messages. David Crystal’s book Txting: The Gr8 Deb8 has a chapter devoted to it.

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